I have a professional-crush on Christian Madsbjerg, co-author with Mikkel Rasmussen, of Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems. And by "professional-crush", I mean that I am in awe of his thinking processes and intellectual prowess. I'm impressed that someone with a background in German philosophy and political science is advising some of the largest powerhouse corporations in the world- one more reason to follow your heart and study what you love! I first met Christian at a Walmart conference in which we both participated, and then dug into Moment of Clarity.
Fortunately, I got a chance to sit down with him this past August in his ReD Associates offices in Manhattan and have quite a provocative conversation about intuition, creativity and sensitivity. Christian is a big proponent of the humanities. He has pointed out that the humanities at their core cultivate a lot of the principles that design thinking champions: empathy, story and lateral thinking. For example, if you really want to cultivate your skills in empathy- read some fiction! It is the best way to put yourself in another's shoes who may have a different gender, ethnicity, geography and history. Christian discussed with me the ways that the German philosopher Heidegger points us in the direction of understanding that creativity is really about sensitivity, and that true creativity is about having an acute sensitivity to people.
This perspective ties in very nicely with what I have been calling an embrace of the Worm's Eye View of The World. The Worm's Eye View incorporates ethnography and is all about getting outside of the four walls of your office to immerse yourself in the context of another person, and try to sense and understand from their perspective what motivates them, and why they do what they do. The Bird's Eye View of The World, in contrast, observes social patterns from the 30,000 foot level- it is the world of statistical data. Both are important. The challenge is that we rarely integrate these perspectives in our problem framing and problem solving processes.
Dan Mikkin, partner at the Estonian marketing firm Brand Manual has built the entire heuristic of his business on this notion of getting out of your office building and onto the ground, to the Worm's Eye View. When members of the Strategic Design MBA program at Philadelphia University visited with Brand Manual in Tallinn last spring, one of the most striking images in their presentation was a drawing of an executive in an office tower building, looking out a window and completely missing two people sitting on a bench right beneath their windows.
As soon as you venture away from your Excel sheets, statistical models, and focus groups, you can tap into another capability to gain insights about- not users, or customers- but about people. Harold Hambrose, President of Electronic Ink and an industrial designer by training, made this very point last week at a design thinking panel at Philadelphia University sponsored by the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs. Harold embraces the multi-disciplinary attributes of design thinking, and employs teams of designers, MBA's, anthropologists and psychologists to solve problems, about people, for banks, utilities and consumer product companies around the world. The other panelists- Phil Charron vice president of experience design at ThinkBrownstone; Heather Hollis, vice president of product design at Comcast; and Matt Thomas, interaction designer at BresslerGroup--embraced Harold's challenge that we stop using the word "users" and replace it with "people".
It is pretty cool when there is a convergence of ideas about being people-centered between a Danish philosopher, an American industrial designer and an Estonian branding executive. The next time you begin to ask about your users, stop. Reorient and remind yourself that you are solving problems for people. That subtle shift in language will do wonders for your sensemaking skills and build a different sensitivity to the challenges at hand.